Bad Voltage: Philips Hue vs LifX, and are smart bulbs a good idea?

On the next episode of Bad Voltage, we discuss whether smart bulbs are a good idea. To get the conversation rolling, I started out with a brief introduction of two systems I use: Hue and LifX. Here’s how the segment starts:

The Bad Voltage team thought it would be interesting to have a discussion about smart bulbs: whether they’re a good idea or not, what the future holds, etc. Before we do that though, I thought I’d give a brief introduction of the multiple smart bulb solutions I have running in my home.

The first system I have running is Philips Hue. Based on the low-power, wireless mesh network zigbee standard this system requires a hub to operate. The Hue line offers a wide variety of options, including standard lights, accent lights, spot lights, light strips, integrated switches and more. Setup is a breeze and while the stock app could be more intuitive the large number of 3rd party applications and integrations more than make up for that. The bulbs are bright and color saturation is acceptable. One down side to this option is that it’s on the pricier end of the spectrum.

The second system I have running is LifX. Based on traditional wifi, no additional hub is needed. The LifX line is limited to standard white and color bulbs. Setup is once again a breeze and the stock app is intuitive and full featured. It includes some nice touches such as cool effects baked into the app that you can only get with Hue by using 3rd party apps. The number of 3rd party integrations isn’t as large as Hue, but has been growing steadily recently. The bulbs have the greatest brightness and color saturation of any smart bulb I’ve seen. The price of LifX bulbs are comparable to Hue.

Depending on your needs and design requirements, I’d recommend both systems. There are less expensive options from GE, Wink, WeMo, Cree and others but I’ve never used them so cannot comment on how they compare. With that brief intro out of the way let’s get to the first question my co-presenters had. Are smart bulbs a good idea? Let me give you a few examples of how I use the bulbs and then we’ll get the discussion going from there. First, on the more practical side I have a bunch of automations setup that make my home safer and more convenient. Open the front door when it’s dark outside and my living room lights go on. Open the basement door and the basement lights go on (which is especially handy while doing laundry). Next, as I have Redshift adjust the color temperature of my screens at night, the lights in my office also adjust to reduce the amount of blue light as it get later. Lastly, on the less practical side, when my favorite team scores a touchdown various lights in my house flash the team colors. So, fellow presenters, what do you think?

Turn in tomorrow to hear what my fellow presenters think. In the mean time, what is your opinion on smart bulbs?

–jeremy

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Bad Voltage Episode 50 Has Been Released

Jono Bacon, Bryan Lunduke, Stuart Langridge and myself bring you the wonderful world of Bad Voltage, in which you get a mat underfoot because your feet hurt, there is a small Lunduke on the scene, and:

  • 00:04:48 Mycroft, the open source “AI for everyone” home automation thing that you can put in your house and speak commands to, has achieved its Kickstarter goals and will happen. We like it. Here’s why
  • 00:24:48 Chris Waid from Thinkpenguin and savewifi.org speaks about the American FCC’s consultation which requires restricting wireless devices from using unapproved frequencies. Understandably, the SaveWiFi team are very concerned this will result in outright banning of open source router firmware and possibly open source wireless drivers generally. Today we discuss the issue with Chris, whether it’s quite as big a problem as is suggested, and what can be done about it
  • 00:48:17 Hack Voltage: Jeremy spends a minute recommending a cool thing. In this episode, a bathroom mirror which runs Android
  • 00:49:24 Unbiasedly leading on from Mycroft, one of the things it touts itself as is integrating with your home automation; Internet-of-Things things around your house, whether thermometers or Dropcams or smart fridges. We’ve been getting into home automation to varying degrees, and it’s a big area; here we talk about it and open standards
  • 01:08:14 Jono reviews the LIFT standing desk conversion kit, and the idea of standing desks generally

We’re doing a live show, and you can be in the audience! See details of Bad Voltage Live, in Fulda, Germany on September 30th 2015, at badvoltage.org/live!

Listen to 1×50: Automated

From the Bad Voltage site: Every two weeks Bad Voltage delivers an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting, as well as interviews and reviews. Do note that Bad Voltage is in no way related to LinuxQuestions.org, and unlike LQ it will be decidedly NSFW. That said, head over to the Bad Voltage website, take a listen and let us know what you think.

–jeremy

Bad Voltage Episode 49 Has Been Released

Jono Bacon, Stuart Langridge and myself bring you the wonderful world of Bad Voltage, in which it’s all about the money, it’s never about the privacy, and we disagree about:

  • 00:05:03 The Endless Computer bills itself as “a computer for emerging markets”; a unit with a priority on design, created to plug into an existing TV and pre-packaged with content so it doesn’t need an internet connection. We discuss whether it lives up to its lofty goals.
  • 00:21:26 At roughly the same time, Dustin Kirkland wrote an extremely angry “open letter” to Google about his horrible Nest smoke alarms, and meanwhile our own Jeremy found himself very happy with his Nests. We asked Dustin for a comment, and Jeremy reviews the Nest 2 and why he’s considerably happier
  • 00:37:52 Hack Voltage: Stuart has been playing with drawing app Gliffy
  • 00:39:15 Microsoft: friend or foe of the open source community? Every time they seem good they turn around and do something terrible to us, but then the open source community have finally moved beyond the “Micro$oft” years and we want to embrace them as being on-side. Are they OK now? Are they as bad as they ever were?

We’re doing a live show, and you can be in the audience! See details of Bad Voltage Live, in Fulda, Germany on September 30th 2015, at badvoltage.org/live!

Listen to 1×49: The Tapas Of All Bananas

From the Bad Voltage site: Every two weeks Bad Voltage delivers an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting, as well as interviews and reviews. Do note that Bad Voltage is in no way related to LinuxQuestions.org, and unlike LQ it will be decidedly NSFW. That said, head over to the Bad Voltage website, take a listen and let us know what you think.

–jeremy

 

Nest Protect Generation 2 Review

In the next episode of Bad Voltage, I’ll be reviewing the Nest Protect Generation 2, a network capable Smoke + Carbon Monoxide detector. Tune in tomorrow to listen to the ensuing discussion and the rest of the show. In the interim, here’s the review:

Nest Protect Generation 2

As someone who travels quite a bit, a smoke detector that can notify me when I’m away is a compelling device. As a technology guy who has a fair amount of home automation equipment, a smoke detector that can integrate into my increasingly smarter home seems like a natural choice. So, why am I just now reviewing the Nest Protect? Well, the first generation Protect had quite a reputation for false alarms and a “wave” feature that was so buggy it resulted in a recall. And while I’m an early adopter who suffers through quite a few wonky first generation devices, when it comes to something as important as a safety device… I decided to play it safe. But when Nest recently released the Nest Protect generation 2, I decided to take the proverbial plunge.

While the generation 2 device is noticeably sleeker than its predecessor, its what’s inside that prompted my purchase. It uses an advanced smoke sensor, called a Split-Spectrum Sensor, to detect a wide range of smoke events, including both slow smoldering fires and fast flaming fires. That sensor is shielded against outside light and encased in a stainless steel screen, which has a hexagonal pattern designed to let smoke in and keep bugs, dust and fibers out. This should vastly decrease the likelihood of a false alarm. The device also has built-in sensors to detect carbon monoxide, heat, humidity, occupancy and ambient light, as well as (slightly disconcertingly for some I’m sure) a microphone. On the outside is a central button, surrounded by a colorful LED ring, which alerts you to the current status of the device: Blue during setup/testing, green for good, yellow for warning and red for an emergency.

Setting up the device was extremely straight forward. Download the Nest app (available for Android and iOS), select “Add product” and follow a couple simple prompts. Total install time was less than 5 minutes per device, although I installed the battery powered version. If you opt for the hardwired version it will take a little longer. You can enable a couple optional features during install, including Pathlight (which will turn the LED ring into a night-light if you walk by in the dark) and Nightly Promise (which will result in the device glowing green briefly at night, to let you know that it’s fully operational). Installation concludes with a final safety test.

As part of the install, you select where the device is located in your home. One thing that separates the Protect from a more traditional device is the Heads Up feature. If smoke or CO levels are elevated but not at emergency levels, the device will loudly say: “Heads up: there’s smoke in the hallway”. Once the levels pass a certain threshold, the full alarm is sounded and you will start to receive mobile notifications. Unlike the first gen device, you can silence the alarm from the app, although due to regulations there are some parameters around when you can do so. As a networked device, when one Protect senses trouble, all devices will alarm. That means if my Protect on the 3rd floor detects smoke, the device on the 1st floor will also alarm, making it much more likely someone will hear it. The device also regularly tests the battery and will inform you if it’s low, hopefully making the just-not-often-enough intermittent chirp of a dying smoke detector a thing of the past.

There are some additional features that more advanced users may take advantage of as well. The Protect can integrate with other Nest devices, so for example you can have a Dropcam send you a picture if the Protect alarms. There is also full IfThisThenThat support with quite a few existing recipes available. This enables scenarios such as “Text a neighbor when your Nest Protect detects a smoke alarm emergency” or “Add a reminder to my calendar when Nest Protect batteries are low”.

So, what’s the Bad Voltage verdict? At $99, the Protect is significantly more expensive than a traditional smoke detector. While I’ve only had the second generation devices for a little over a month, I haven’t gotten a single false alarm yet. If that remains the case, the additional features, notifications and integrations are compelling enough to justify the cost for me. Because I like redundancy, I also installed a more traditional (although Z Wave enabled) device on my second floor.

–jeremy